Monday, August 15, 2005

Currently I'm listening to

The 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century selected by Walter Cronkite

I'm about halfway through. As a kid, I stumbled upon some old phonograph records of old 1930s radio shows like The Shadow. Ever since then, I've been nostalgic for something that my Grandparents barely recall. After seeing this collection at the local library, I knew I had to listen to it.

So far it’s quite a mixed bag. There seems to be no clear criteria for "greatest." Some shows were "events" others are presented as merely typical of the show they are representing, and some shows are there for mere historical curiosity. For example, the Chase and Sandborn show that was playing opposite the (in)famous Halloween scare on CBS is included in this package not because it was a great example of radio, but because it was what most people were listening to the "night that America panicked." Apparently a lot of listeners turned over to CBS during the musical numbers, intending to turn back for the comedy segments. Since many then missed Orson Welles' opening, a lot of the listeners thought they had stumbled upon real newscasts.

Anyway, some of the shows are real gems. Aldous Huxley himself narrates a radio adaptation of Brave New World and there's a moving tribute to the end of World War II. Vincent Price turns up several times, as does Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart.

The advertisements interest me the most, though. The old time radio shows seemed to have a love/hate relationship with their sponsors. Some shows worked them into the skits, and other ruthlessly mocked their sponsors. The Arthur Godfrey show, for example, was fairly boring and unfunny (even though it was apaprently a comedy), but I'm guessing it was included because the host spends much of the half hour making bizarre jokes about Kleenex Tissues (his sponsor).

Some shows were "sustainers" i.e. they didn't have a sponsor and existed to fill the air time between sponsored shows. Those shows were disproportionately science fiction and suspense. Comedy and variety shows had all the big, important sponsors (mostly tobacco, coffee and alcohol products - good family fun sponsored by all your sinful vices!).

Once I'm finished I'll likely list my favorite (and least favorite) from this box set.

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